Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Murphy's Laws of Writing

When I was a college student, I had a couple of Murphy's Laws posters that hung on my closet door (I wonder whatever happened to them). I didn't have a Murphy's Laws of Writing poster, but I sure could have used one back then. It would have given me an idea of what to expect today . . .

Murphy's Law of Interview Calls: Your phone will sit quiet all day, until you are ready to do an interview.

Murphy's Law of Phone Tag: A person you tried to reach earlier will call you back -- when you are in the middle of another call.

Murphy's Law of Interview Scheduling: You will be available all week with the exception of one half hour, and that is the same half hour every tries to schedule an interview.

Murphy's Law of Assignments: Your calendar is empty except for one day, when five editors pick the same date for a deadline.

Murphy's Law of Quitting Time: The email or call you had waited for all day will arrive minutes after you shut your office for the evening.

Murphy's Law of Sources: The perfect source will return your message, two hours after you submitted the article.

Murphy's Law of Recording: When your source talks too fast or you know you'll have to doublecheck the tape for the information, you forgot to plug in the mic to the phone.

Any I forgot?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Interview with Allison Winn Scotch

Lots of you know Allison from her Ask Allison blog. Her book, The Department of Lost and Found, is being released in paperback, and Allison graciously offered to do an interview. Now there are no excuses for going out to buy the book!

For those who might be unfamiliar with the book, can you provide a little background on the story.

The Department of Lost and Found is about a headstrong 30-year old woman who is diagnosed with cancer. But it's really about so much more than that. Did I say cancer? No, what I mean was, the book is about an ambitious 30-year old who discovers that the ideals she once deemed important might not be so important after all, and by tracing through her past - her former loves and her former life - she realizes that though she's been stripped of her career, her boyfriend and yes, her health, she's still able to persevere. And that her disease was just a catalyst for putting her on a path to self-discovery.

The book is now coming out in paperback. Was this planned in your original contract or based on book sales?

Yes, and I think this is true of most hardcovers, unless you sell the book to a publisher, like, I believe, though don't quote me, McCage/Adams, or unless your book really tanks. A lot of books - and I'm hoping this is true for the Department - really get a second life in paperback, especially for debut authors because a lot of people aren't willing to shell out for a hardcover author who is unproven to them. So often times, a publisher might release a paperback with renewed hope, as in the case of the Memory Keeper's Daughter.

Any changes from the hardcover version to paperback version?

Well, the big change is in the cover! I blogged about this in recent weeks, but the folks at HarperCollins thought - after some trial and error, I guess - that the hardcover jacket didn't quite have mass market appeal, even though I absolutely adored it. So they packed the paperback with a softer image that I wasn't totally sold on at first, but we've gotten a lot of positive feedback, so they seem to know what they're doing! :) Also, there's an author's Q/A with me in the back of the book, which, I think, is tucked in for book clubs, and hopefully gives some insights into why and how I made the choices I did when I was writing!

I know you have another book in the works. When should we expect to see it?

Yup, Time of My Life will be out in October, and I'm so super-excited for it. It's about a woman who seems to have it all but who is haunted by her lingering "what ifs." And she wakes up one day seven years in the past with the opportunity to redo it all and discover if the path she chose was the one she should have chosen all along. I'm totally fascinated by how even the littlest decisions can change the entire landscape of our lives, and I'm also a compulsive googler, so writing this book was a lot of fun for me. My publisher - this time, I'm with Random House - is doing some GREAT things for the book, really taking it to a whole new level, and I can't wait to see what happens.

Was writing novels in your long-term plans? How does magazine writing fit into your schedule now?

I think in the back of my mind, yes, it was always part of the larger goal,but to be honest, I didn't really know how to make it happen...which, I suppose, makes me just like 99% of other writers out there! I started my first novel eight or so years ago but got stuck half-way through. But every time I'd read about, say, an alumni from my university publishing a novel, I got a twinge of, "Why aren't I doing that? Why isn't it MY book they're promoting?" But of course, if you haven't written a book, there's no book to promote! (Duh.) So eventually, I forced myself to return to that
stalled novel and finished it (two years later!). It turned out to be good enough to get me an agent but not good enough to sell to a publisher, and though at the time I deemed it genius, in retrospect, it's embarrassingly bad. Really, really bad. Like, I'm-so-grateful-it-wasn't-published-bad.

Still though, I had now proven to myself that I was capable of writing a novel, and so, armed with the determination to prove these publishers wrong (and in some cases right, as many had given me a lot of praise, even while rejecting me), I dove into what would become The Department full-hog, and three months later, emerged from the whirlwind with what is mostly the current manuscript.

As far as magazines, I've really pared back. So many people say to me, "I don't know how you do it all!," but the truth IS, is that I don't do it all anymore! I have two small kids, and the grind of those daily or weekly deadlines was slowly taking its toll on my schedule and my stress level, especially know that I know what it's like to have these longer deadlines that come with a novel. I also felt like, after seven or so years of freelancing, that I'd covered just about every subject imaginable, and I was ready to flex new muscles. So, these days, I do still write for editors whom I love because I'm someone who still needs to have SOMETHING on her
plate, but mostly, I'm really hoping to craft a career mostly built around writing fiction. What a luxury that is, and trust me, not a day goes by when I don't appreciate the good fortune of my situation.

Me again: If you or one of your friends have published a book and want a little free publicity, drop me a note. I'd be happy to help.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is Your Life Worth a Memoir?

I stumbled across an article on CNN.com about the rising popularity of memoirs, both by readers and within publishing houses.

I write a lot of essays and creative non-fiction. And I've been playing around with a memoir, although it isn't the typical hard-luck story with a happy ending. It's more like the slice of life stuff with a theme and I'm going to do some other things with it. If I ever have time to really work on it.

These are things I write that give me great pleasure. As I've mentioned here before, fiction writing is not my forte, so this is as close as I'll probably ever get to publishing fiction. At least the essays.

But are my stories that unique or worth reading? No, not at all. And that seems to be the appeal. At least with the essays. My essays generate memories for others, memories they had long forgotten, memories that aren't so different from my experiences. I have an essay I've been trying to sell, about my grandmother picking dandelions. It hasn't sold yet -- editors have all given it wonderful comments, but then add, "we just bought another essay on dandelions." Proof there is no such thing as a unique story, if you ask me.

Maybe that's the real selling point of memoirs. It's nice to see someone who faced hardship similar to yours, a book you can relate to.

My life, beyond the stories I'm writing now, is probably memoir worthy in today's market -- up to a point. There are just enough twists to make my life different, but unless I reveal some deep family secrets, not enough twists.

But I admire the people who write them and gain some fame. It takes guts to dig into the dirty closets of your family and spill those secrets to the world.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stupid Browsers

On Friday afternoon, I went to visit a website I visit all the time. I clicked on the link to read an article on the site, and poof, my browswer crashed. Okay, it happens sometimes.

Except this time, I've yet to get my browser to work right.

I know IE is filled with vulnerabilities, but I still like it better than Firefox.

The problem is it will only let me run one tab at a time, and even then, it starts to get cranky and freezes. (Right now I'm running IE's version of safe mode; everything is disabled.)

Just like I'm a multi-tasker, I'm a multi-tabber. I use the internet extensively for research, and I like the ability to tab quickly and easily between websites. Not having that ability really sucks.

So why I don't I just switch to Firefox? Well . . . I would, but I can't figure out how to get all my bookmarks switched over. When I first downloaded Firefox on this computer, I did download the bookmarks. I had maybe 4 or 5 saved at that point in time. Now I have dozens, many I use for research.

Looks like I'm going to have to call my IT guy.

At least I don't have any pressing deadlines today that I can mess with this. Any suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Phones Ringing at 3 AM

The 3 am phone call is a hot topic in the news lately, with the political ads and who we'd want answering the phone in the middle of the night for some major world crisis.

Now, we know that crises don't always happen in the middle of the night and bad news doesn't always come by phone (remember, President Bush was reading to a classroom when he got the whisper in his ear about the 9-11 tragedy). But we also know the implication of the ads: when the phone rings at 3 am, it could never be good news.

I've fielded plenty of middle of the night phone calls over the years. They are usually from friends who are going through some tough times and can't sleep. They call me because they figure at 3 am, they wouldn't be disturbing me.

One of the things I love best about freelancing is that I can live by my natural body clock. I am a night owl. My body tends to wake up around 10 am, without fail. Always has. If I have to get up early, I'm usually pretty useless until 10.

So when my phone rings at 7 or 8 am, that's my 3 am, middle of the night, jolt me out of a sound sleep call. That's what happened to me this morning, only this time it was a work call. Had I known the person was calling, I would have been awake and prepared. I had no idea the call was coming when it did, however. I'm sure the gentleman was surprised to hear my groggy wake-up voice.

This was the first a work call woke me, but at least once a week someone will call me before 9 and if it is someone I know socially (as opposed a reminder about my husband's doctor's appointment, even though we ask them to call him at his office), they chide me for still being asleep. I'm sure they wouldn't be so pleasant if I called them at midnight, a time when I'm wide awake and more than willing to talk.

There is a stigma attached to calling people after a certain time in the evening because of putting the children down to sleep, having some quiet family time, adults going to bed early. I have answered the phone plenty of time with the person saying, "Am I calling too late?" (If it is before 2 am, no, you aren't.)

But no one has ever asked me if they were calling too early. Instead, if they notice that they have woken me, I get, "It sure must be nice to sleep in." Except it isn't always a luxury. Because I spend so much of my day doing phone interviews or answering urgent emails, often my best writing time comes when the rest of the world has gone to bed (and no one wants to call), so I'm going to bed a hours before the rest of the world wakes.

And people wonder why I love email . . .

Monday, April 7, 2008

Tax Man

I'm going to write something that will annoy writers everywhere.

My taxes are done.

They've been done since mid-February and were filed in March.

Okay, you don't have to throw anything at me. Having a kid in college helps to force the taxes to get done earlier than most people. The FASFA form that needs income/tax info is due ridiculously early in the tax season. We first dealt with that in 1996, and after 4 years, it becomes routine. It helps, too, that I am married to an uber-organized man who is prepared to do our taxes at any given moment. He's my inspiration to make my accounting system, for what it is worth, efficient and constantly updated. Without him, I'd be pulling all my hair out and I'd be one of those people who shows up at the accountant's office with a box filled with receipts, saying "have a go at it."

For my writing business, I have spreadsheets that focus on total income, income by month, income by client, an invoice tracker, and expenses, which include mileage for travel issues. I have a credit card that I use for business purchases. I have a file folder in my desk where I drop in my pay stubs and another for any receipts or paperwork involving purchases. I haven't really traveled much for business yet, so those aren't expenses I've dealt with. That should change, however, when I plan to attend a couple of conferences this year.

I'm not a numbers person. I could never do this myself. Having an accountant who is familiar with self-employed business tax issues has been a godsend. But having all my ducks in a row throughout the year makes tax time a lot less stressful.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Something in the Air

One of my brain breaks while working is to surf around my favorite writer blogs and discussion boards. Usually I can cull a lot of good information that helps motivate me. But lately it seems like everybody is cranky and itching for an argument.

In this corner, we have a growing blood bath called print versus web writing. I know there are a lot of snobbish print-only writers out there, but I also see a growing number of web-only writers who glare down their nose at print writers. But the truth is, the most successful writers diversify, and that means writing for print, writing for the web, writing for a variety of avenues. Sadly, there are too many writers with blinders on and prejudices who don't see that.

And over in that corner, we have the dart game of wages. Who gets to decide what a "reasonable" per word or per article rate is? And its subdivision argument, this is the way I work; therefore, so must you. There is a lot of assumption that a) all lower-paying (under 50 cents/word) are "bad" jobs, b) that all writing jobs require 10 sources, and c) all articles take equal time to write.

I think everyone is tired of winter and worried about the recession so they are cranky. Bottom line: no one is right, no one is wrong. The important thing is to work in a manner best for you.

I've got to write an article now, but I'll be back with more thoughts on this soon.